Athens presses Ankara

Foreign Minister George Papandreou met with members of the new government in Turkey yesterday in a bid to get Ankara to commit itself to continuing negotiations to solve the Cyprus problem if this is not achieved before the EU’s summit in Copenhagen on December 12. The effort to make progress on the basis of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s proposal for a reunited Cyprus suffered another blow yesterday when Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash entered a New York hospital again for a checkup. Reports said he had fluid in his lungs. He has still not returned to Cyprus after undergoing major heart surgery in October. Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides met with Annan’s envoy to Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, and is ready to send Annan the Greek Cypriots’ comments on the UN plan but is waiting to present it when Denktash does. Both missed a Saturday deadline to do so. The leader of Turkey’s ruling party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said in an interview with Athens’s Skai radio and Kathimerini, «At Copenhagen we are expecting a date for the start of (Turkey’s) accession talks, which should begin before the end of 2003.» Although many EU countries are wary of giving Turkey such a date, Erdogan said Ankara would not be satisfied with a «date for the date» for the start of talks. He told interviewer Irene Anastassopoulou that Cyprus’s EU accession before a solution is found «will not create a healthy basis for a viable result» on Cyprus. Papandreou said after talks with PM Abdullah Gul and Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis that: «There is a will to solve the Cyprus problem that was not there before.» He, in turn, said that if Turkey helped solve the Cyprus problem and undertook other reforms, then the EU might help set a date for accession talks. «We favor Turkey getting a date but this date requires fulfillment of conditions that all nations must meet,» Papandreou said. He and Yakis said both sides would keep up efforts to end the Cyprus impasse, even if this were not achieved by December 12. «We would very much like to see the problem solved before Copenhagen but the door must be left open,» Yakis said. He added that if Cyprus joined the EU – as it is expected to – without a solution, then «the EU will take on a baby with lots of problems.» US Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman was in Athens yesterday after visits to Nicosia and Ankara, pressing for a solution to the Cyprus problem and an EU date for Turkey. «There is an opportunity waiting for all of you and we hope very much you will take it,» he said after meeting Clerides.

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